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CARBON MANAGEMENT MONTH: From theory to reality as investment ploughs in

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Climate change is a pressing global challenge, and the UK is at the forefront of exploring solutions. Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) technologies are emerging as a critical tool in the fight against climate change. Here we explore the evolving use of carbon capture in both the private and public sectors and how approaches are likely to develop…

From Theory to Reality:

CCUS represents a suite of technologies that capture carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial processes and power generation, preventing their release into the atmosphere. Captured CO2 can then be:

  • Utilised: Converted into useful products like fuels or building materials.
  • Stored: Safely sequestered deep underground in geological formations.

While the concept of CCUS has existed for decades, its large-scale deployment is a relatively recent phenomenon. However, the urgency of tackling climate change has spurred significant progress in the UK:

  • Government Investment: The UK government has pledged significant investment in CCUS projects, aiming to capture and store 20-30 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2 and over 50 million tonnes by 2035.
  • Private Sector Initiatives: Several major UK companies across sectors like energy, manufacturing, and chemicals are exploring and investing in CCUS technologies.

Benefits and Challenges:

CCUS offers a promising approach to decarbonisation, particularly for industries where complete electrification or emission reduction is currently difficult. However, challenges remain:

  • Cost: Capturing, transporting, and storing CO2 can be expensive. Government incentives and technological advancements are crucial for cost reduction.
  • Infrastructure: Developing the necessary infrastructure for large-scale CCUS deployment, including CO2 transportation pipelines and storage sites, requires significant investment and planning.
  • Public Perception: There are potential concerns regarding the safety and long-term effectiveness of geological storage solutions. Robust regulations and public engagement are essential.

The Road Ahead:

The future of CCUS in the UK is likely to see continued development and refinement in several areas:

  • Technological Advancements: New capture technologies are being developed to become more efficient and cost-effective, with wider applicability across different industries.
  • Integration with Renewables: CCUS can be combined with renewable energy sources like bioenergy for negative emissions strategies, actively removing CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • Enhanced Monitoring and Verification: Robust monitoring and verification systems will be crucial to ensure the safe and effective long-term storage of captured CO2.

Collaboration is Key:

The successful deployment of CCUS requires collaboration across various stakeholders:

  • Public and Private Partnership: Continued government support and partnerships with private industry will be essential for developing and financing large-scale CCUS projects.
  • International Cooperation: Sharing best practices and learnings with other nations actively exploring CCUS can accelerate technological advancements and deployment strategies.

Capturing the future requires a multi-pronged approach. CCUS, alongside continued investment in renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures, offers a vital tool for the UK to achieve its net zero ambitions. By addressing existing challenges and fostering collaboration, the UK can position itself as a leader in the development and deployment of this critical technology.

Are you searching for Carbon Capture solutions for your business? The Energy Management Summit can help!

Photo by Luca J on Unsplash

Natural carbon capture projects catch £4.3m funding

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

Six pioneering nature projects across England have received major funding award to trial the most effective ways to capture carbon and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Nature Based Solutions for Climate Change at the Landscape Scale is a partnership led by Natural England with the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew at Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex.

Operating at a landscape scale of over 500 hectares each, the six projects will restore landscapes across England – from Plymouth to Northumberland – and assess how carbon is captured and stored across different habitats such as grasslands, forests, wetlands and hedgerows.

The £4.3 million of funding will support:

  • Wild Exmoor Carbon Sequestration Project: The National Trust has been awarded almost £1 million to deliver targeted nature-based solutions and carbon capture across its 670-hectare Watersmeet estate. The charity will create a wetter and wilder landscape by restoring and protecting coastal woodland, heathland habitats, species rich grassland and wood pasture.
  • Wansbeck Restoration for Climate Change (WRCC): Almost £600,000 has been awarded to the project managed by Groundwork NE & Cumbria which will assess how nature-based solutions can thrive in a farmed landscape. The project will restore mixed habitats – grasslands, peaty pockets and woodlands – and demonstrate how landowners can work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote carbon sequestration. Working across 10 sites, the work will restore over 144 hectares and will contribute to the wider restoration of the River Wansbeck catchment in Northumberland.
  • Plymouth’s Natural Grid Nature Based Solutions for Climate Change at the Landscape Scale project: Approximately £1 million will support Plymouth City Council, working in collaboration with the National Trust, to restore natural habitats and create local solutions to climate change in the urban environment through wood pasture, species rich grassland and woodland creation, salt marsh restoration and floodplain mosaic habitat creation.
  • Derwent Forest Landscape Recovery Project, part of the Derwent Connections Programme: Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has been awarded £645,000 for its Derwent Forest Landscape Recovery partnership-led pilot project. This project aims to create connected woody habitats between the Northern and National Forests to allow movement of species in response to climate change. It will also develop an economically viable programme to support landowners to create and expand dynamic and resilient ecosystems.
  • The Oxfordshire–Buckinghamshire Freshwater Network: This programme, run by the Freshwater Habitats Trust, has been awarded over £780,000 to focus on the role played by smaller, peat-dominated wetlands, floodplains, wet grasslands and waters in sequestering carbon in the landscape. These habitats are of exceptional importance for freshwater biodiversity, which is in rapid decline. The project will help to better understand the role that these habitats can play in carbon sequestration. It will also help Freshwater Habitats Trust build the Freshwater Network – a national network of wilder, wetter, cleaner and connected freshwaters.
  • Severn Solutions for Nature’s Recovery (SSNR): Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust has been awarded over £417,000 to work with Hasfield Court Estate to restore a 500-hectare estate in the Severn Vale. The partnership’s vision is to demonstrate and provide evidence of how the restoration of native habitats can provide nature-based solutions that help adapt to climate change and tackle the ecological emergency. Following a baseline survey of the estate, options have been tailored to maximise landscape connectivity between existing priority habitats, and will involve the creation of wood pasture, traditional orchards and species rich grassland. These actions will create habitats for important pollinator species, nesting opportunities for farmland birds and foraging networks for protected bat species.

Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England said: “Many of the solutions to climate change are all around us in the natural world. From trees, hedges and grasslands that absorb carbon from the air to the peat-rich soils that hold it in the ground, there are huge opportunities to catch carbon while achieving other benefits at the same time, including increasing our ability to adapt to climate change impacts. The simple fact is that when it comes to our net zero ambitions Nature is our biggest ally and more we can do to restore it the better.

“Getting the scale of benefits we need requires working together collaboratively across entire landscapes. This is only going to be possible if we forge broad partnerships and this is increasingly the case as different sectors see that they are all part of the solution to the climate and Nature challenges that the world and this country are setting out to meet.”

Alan Lovell, Chair of the Environment Agency, said: “In the face of increasing climate extremes, using nature-based solutions that restore and work with natural processes is a powerful tool that can help protect us from the devastating impact of drought, floods and wildfires.

“The collective ambition to restore nature at a landscape scale, alongside the right financial incentives, will create a more resilient approach which is needed to address the urgent challenges of nature loss and climate change.”

Richard Stanford, Chief Executive at the Forestry Commission, said: “Resilient forests, woods and trees are vital for capturing carbon in the fight against climate change and improving biodiversity to aid nature recovery.

“We are working with project partners on the creation and management of woodlands across these landscapes to help treble tree planting to 7,500 hectares per year by the end of this parliament with a goal of reaching 16.5% tree cover by 2050.

“Through this programme we will gain new insights into the factors that affect how trees capture carbon, over the short and long term, in a variety of different habitats and sites. This will build on the excellent work by Forest Research and other organisations on the subject.”

Ed Ikin, Director of Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanic garden said: “We at Kew are delighted to be part of this transformative landscape research investment.

“We hope our innovative research at Wakehurst will provide vital and valuable data for both the government and our new partner sites, offering essential scientific evidence for the ability of biodiverse landscapes to sequester carbon above and belowground to benefit people and the economy.”

Nature-based solutions – which tackle societal challenges in ways that benefit both people and nature – can remove CO2 from the atmosphere and halt emissions from degraded natural sites and agricultural land. Testing the effectiveness of different landscapes in acting as carbon sinks will be crucial in meeting the UK’s climate goals.

Analysis and information from the pilot sites will be used to better inform habitat creation and contribute to tackling climate change.  Each project will also look how best to blend public and private sources of funding to support further delivery of their landscape-scale plans for improving the natural environment.

The partner organisations will work alongside project partners to expand scientific evidence on greenhouse gas emissions, create sustainable funding opportunities for landscape scale projects, and provide additional data to inform the development of robust carbon standards, such as the Woodland Carbon Code and the Peatland Code.

The Nature Based Solutions for Climate Change Programme is a £12.5 million programme first established in 2021 which is funded by the Treasury’s Shared Outcomes Fund, and cosponsored by Defra and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. The fund seeks to increase cross-government collaboration and address society’s most challenging problems including biodiversity loss, climate change and land use change.

In addition to establishing the partner sites, the funding is enabling Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and Kew to undertake further scientific research into the value of nature-based solutions and green finance models.

Researchers at Kew’s wild botanic garden, Wakehurst will research the value of broadleaf, coppiced and coniferous woodlands in building resilience to climate change. Using drones, they will measure plant biomass alongside greenhouse gas flux, and undertake soil fungal research to consider how different biodiverse habitats sequester carbon.

Natural England scientists are also assessing carbon and biodiversity both on the new habitats and assessing the carbon and biodiversity benefits of earlier habitat creation and restoration projects.

The Programme will run until March 2024.

Net Zero, carbon capture and hydrogen: Regulatory developments 

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

By Matt Lewy (pictured), Energy Partner at law firm Womble Bond Dickinson

The UK government is pressing ahead with the development of the regulatory regime for carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), following the latest suite of updated business models published in May 2021.

Ultimately the CCUS regime will look like many regulated utilities, with a fixed (or regulated asset base) return paid to operators and investors. That said, there is risk inherent in developing the transport and storage components of a technology largely unproven at significant scale. This is coupled with a need to ensure enough power plants and industrial emitters connect to those systems at an early stage, in order to make them financially viable.

The business model updates look at options for mitigating those risks, with the government ultimately providing backstop support. At this stage, it has not been confirmed who will be the regulator for the industry, and whether this role will be split between the onshore and offshore elements.

The government is running a procurement process, with nascent CCUS clusters in UK industrial heartlands bidding to become one of two priority, or track-1, clusters. These will work with the government in implementing the regulatory regime and developing the returns model both for the development and operational phases of each project. The intention is to apply lessons learnt from the priority clusters, which on current projections will be operational by the mid-2020s, to smooth the path for future investment.

The announcement of the priority clusters is pencilled in for 9 August 2021. There are probably five or six viable proposals under serious consideration. These include St Fergus in Aberdeenshire and Teesside. Whichever of the clusters are selected there will be a certain amount of levelling-up achieved, as there is a requirement to include a significant component of local supply chain content, with associated employment opportunities, within the cluster bidding process. In connection with this, the government has launched a supply chain mapping exercise, the intention being to ensure the UK becomes a market leader in the industry.

It is telling that the CCUS regime is significantly more advanced than that for hydrogen. The priority appears to be the decarbonisation of heavy industry, and learning to apply CCUS to natural gas. Gas power with CCUS will be used to provide electricity whilst the UK scales up renewable electricity generation and addresses its intermittency. Gas with CCUS will also be used in the production of blue hydrogen.

A further update on the use of hydrogen and its regulatory regime is expected from the government shortly. Whether this extends to more long term uses of hydrogen, i.e. outside the confines of localised clusters, such as in domestic heating and mass transport systems, remains to be seen.

US pledges $43 million to carbon capture technologies

960 640 Stuart O'Brien

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) has announced up to $43 million in funding to develop carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

The goal is to enable power generators to be responsive to grid conditions in a high variable renewable energy (VRE) penetration environment. 

The FLExible Carbon Capture and Storage (FLECCS) program seeks to develop technologies that address difficulties in decarbonisation of electricity systems, focusing specifically on complications in CCS design, operations, and commercialization potential with the increasing penetration of high VRE sources such as wind and solar power. 

“Flexible CCS technology has the potential to achieve unprecedented carbon capture that will revolutionize the market,” said Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette. “The FLECCS program will quickly advance our carbon capture technology to bring us closer to flexible, low-cost, net-zero carbon electricity systems.”

FLECCS projects will develop retrofits to existing power generators as well as novel systems with carbon-containing fuel input and electricity output. 

The program will have two phases. Phase 1 will focus on designing and optimizing CCS processes that enable flexibility on a high-VRE grid. Phase 2 will focus on building components, unit operations, and small prototype systems to reduce the technical risks and costs associated with CCS systems.

Projects will be selected to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 at the conclusion of the initial funding period, based on the output and capacity expansion analysis of the projects.

A portion of the funding will be made specifically available for qualifying small business applicants under ARPA-E’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. 

To learn more about ARPA-E’s FLECCS program, click here.